HC Deb 06 June 1946 vol 423 cc2142-4
24. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether prisoners are permitted to write letters to their Members of Parliament in addition to their regular letters; and if such letters are subject to censorship by the prison authorities.

Mr. Ede

The primary purpose for which prisoners are allowed to write letters is to keep in touch with their friends and relatives. In view of the ample facilities which are given to prisoners to make representations to me on matters connected with their trial, conviction or prison treatment, it is a rule that prisoners are not permitted to make such representations to judges, public authorities or Departments, or Members of Parliament. Accordingly a prisoner would only be permitted to write to a Member of Parliament in special circumstances, e.g. if he were personally acquainted with the Member or if the Member had written to him. Any such letter would be scrutinised by the prison authorities in the usual way before despatch.

Mr. Stokes

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, in view of the extremely job lot of people who seem to get into Brixton Prison nowadays, this regulation applies to them? Surely these people have no hope whatever unless they are able at least to write to a Member of Parliament?

Mr. Ede

No, Sir. Any letter that is written by a Member of Parliament addressed to me is brought to me with the utmost despatch.

Mr. Stokes

I meant from the person in prison to a Member of Parliament. I have received such letters, and they have not been stopped, I am glad to say.

Mr. Driberg

I speak subject to correction, Mr. Speaker, but is there not an absolute constitutional right on the part of a citizen to communicate with his Member of Parliament on any matter, and does not the Home Secretary's regulation seem to limit that right?

Sir Ian Fraser

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the only ultimate sanction is for the citizen to be able to write to his Member of Parliament and not to be intercepted by the Executive?

Mr. Ede

Mr. Speaker, I understood the remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) was directed to you on a point of constitutional practice. Without further instructions I should not be prepared to answer it. However, I can assure hon. Members that every letter addressed to me receives my attention at once. With regard to the question as to whether prisoners should be allowed to write to Members of Parliament, I can only say that from the numbers of letters I receive from hon. Members, I am convinced that somehow or other, prisoners have discovered a way of communicating with hon. Members.

Major Bruce

May I have your Ruling on this point, Mr. Speaker: Does a question of Privilege arise here?

Mr. Speaker

I should certainly have to take time to consider a matter of such constitutional importance; but the Speaker should not be asked to take part in supplementary questions.